So, well, I REALLY loved my time at KU.
It was a hot afternoon in the middle of May.
Sweat glistened on my forehead as I stuffed a bag full of dirty laundry into the trunk of my family’s van. The vehicle was filled with all of my possessions, ready to make the two and a half hour trip back to my childhood home on Judith Street.
I slowly walked to the passenger side door and slid into the front seat. I took one last glance at the building that had been my home for the last year, the best year, the very best of my 19.
I tried to blink them back, even tried to swallow them, but in that moment all I could do was hang my head and let the tears fall. They slid off my nose and onto my fingers interlocked neatly on my lap.
“What’s wrong? Erin, don’t cry,” I heard my Dad say in the driver’s seat next to me. He placed a hand on my shoulder, “Why are you sad? You’re coming back at the end of the summer. Don’t cry.”
All I could do was nod.
He was right. It seemed silly to be so upset. I would be back. I knew that. June would pass, then July, and come the second week in August I’d be moving back again. But there was one small difference. I wouldn’t be moving back into the Ellsworth Residence Hall. I wouldn’t be moving back in with my roommates—three women I once knew as strangers but had come to call family.
Nothing would be the way it had. Yes, we would still see each other, and yes I would still be a KU student for another three far-too-short years. But I knew that things were changing. I could feel it as we all slowly moved out of our dorm room. I felt it when I sat on cold tile of our eighth floor suite waiting for my Dad to come help me move. I was the last one to move out, and I remember thinking I had never heard so much silence.
It’s a hard thing to explain, the moment when you begin to grow into yourself. It happened sometime during my freshman year at the University of Kansas. Maybe it was in the middle of a falling out with my high school best friend. Maybe it was in the way I became attached to the girl I shared a bedroom with. Within weeks I was telling her things I had never told anyone else. I had never felt more comfortable sharing some of my innermost secrets.
Maybe it was the way I slowly learned to navigate a grocery store by myself. I called my Mom so many times as I wandered the isles, “Where do they keep the damn spices at Target? Where the hell are the cotton balls?” Of course it’s silly, but I will never forget how overwhelmed I felt the first time I walked into Target’s grocery section with a full list and a shopping cart. Where do I start?
Maybe it happened when I first started to pay attention to my bank account. I always knew this, but my freshman year was the first time in my life when I really experienced money dwindle as I spent it, and I actually had to answer the question, what will I do when it runs out?
It might have been that spring night in early April. I had no idea what the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament was until March of 2008 (true story), but I will never forget running to downtown Lawrence, screaming, laughing, drinking, and high-fiving strangers. I stayed out all night. I was a champion.
I think that was the moment, whether right or wrong, that I finally felt okay for betraying my family’s wishes that I attend the University of Missouri. I remember thinking, I’m OK here. Actually, I’m great here.
I can’t pinpoint exactly when I started to morph into this more mature, maybe even (almost) adult version of myself. But I know it happened in that room. It happened during movie marathons, pizza at 2 a.m., procrastinating studying for finals, drunk on Saturday nights, hung-over on Sunday mornings, laughter, snow days, heart-to-hearts, road trips, dancing…and suddenly I realized I had the kind of friends I had always wanted.
I had good friends in high school, great ones whom I still talk to. But I was also of the ridiculous notion that few people would truly like me for me. I’m sure my high school experience was not unlike yours. It seemed every time I was completely myself I made more enemies than friends.
My freshman year at KU taught me, among so many other life lessons, that people will love you for you. They will laugh with you and accept your imperfections. They will. And honestly, screw the ones who don’t.
That’s what I was really crying about as my family’s van pulled away from Daisy Hill. I had grown into myself in that residence hall, and I would never be back, in that same place, again.
I did come back to Lawrence that August, and for two more after that. And each year, although similar in nature, brought changes. I lost touch with the people I felt the strongest bond with my first year. But I also made new friends, and reconnected with old ones. I laughed, had pizza at 2 a.m., and loved every moment of heartache and elation I experienced during the rest of my undergraduate career at KU.
I didn’t stop learning either. I loved being in the classroom. I wasn’t completely in love with every class I took, but there were plenty I looked forward to attending. If I hope to carry anything with me into post-grad life, let it be my enthusiasm and zeal for learning.
Of course, there was happiness in the years that followed. Some moments even better than the year I spent in Ellsworth 801. But I will always remember the way I felt moving out of that dorm room. It was as though I could feel the hands of time pulling at my world, and forcing change. This is the role of time. To slowly chip away at everything you cherish and value and love and hold dear. Time is a sneaky bitch like that, if you aren’t careful you will wake up one day and find that time took everything.
Sometimes, you hate time, because it stole so much from you. It made you put all your possessions in a van, when you would have given anything to have just one more week.
But sometimes you respect time, because what kind of person would you be if you had stayed in that dorm room forever?
Moving on is necessary, and thank goodness time is around to force us to do so. Otherwise, we might all still be where we are comfortable…and that is no way to live.
Today I attended the last classes of my undergraduate career at KU. I feel the same way I did when I left my dorm room…sad, lost, confused, hopeful, and a new one, this just in…absolutely terrified.
Terrified that I might never find what I truly love, what I was truly meant to do with my life. Terrified that I might fail, that I might let everyone around me down. Terrified that I will not live up to my own expectations. Terrified that I might forever remain a financial burden on the two greatest people I know—my parents.
My Dad keeps putting his hand on my shoulder. He keeps telling me in his reassuring voice as I press my cell phone to my ear, “Erin, don’t cry. It’s all going to be OK. Things will get better.”
I’m not going to lie; it is sometimes hard to believe him,
But what reassures me is remembering the way I hung my head in May of 2008. And as much as there was heartache in the years that have followed, and yearning for that time back in my dorm room, there was happiness too. And a lot of it.
There were tears, frightening changes, and unknown territories.
But also smiles, laughter, memories, hand-holding, and…
So much happiness.